Sunday, August 19, 2012

ParaNorman ★★★½

Funny, Scary and Heartfelt

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

These days it seems like there are too many zombies and ghosts populating both the big and small screen. On top of that there's an overabundance of animated films that are less than stellar, begging the question of whether or not these types of films have run their course. Happily, a film like ParaNorman reminds us that there's a lot to love in both genres, but that maybe the best form for both to exist is in stop-motion animation.

The film focuses on Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young man who can see dead people and, as a result, is outcast by his peers and his family. Misunderstood would be an understatement, as the only person who truly understands Norman is his deceased grandmother, voiced by Elaine Stritch. Norman finds a new friend in Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) but his brief happiness is interrupted when he is informed by his crazy uncle (John Goodman) that a curse will befall the town at midnight unless Norman performs a ritual to stop it. When he fails to do so, a group of zombies is summoned to wreak havoc on the small town until Norman can figure out how to stop them.

The joy of ParaNorman comes from its healthy mixture of genres, delivering moments that are simultaneously hilarious and creepy, such as the scene in which Norman discovers his uncle's dead body. It grosses you out and makes you laugh uncomfortably at the same time. There are also scenes with genuine heart on display as exemplified when Norman's sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), sticks up for him for the first time, or when his grandmother confesses to staying behind on Earth as a ghost so that she could always protect him. We don't see horror comedies with emotional resonance like this that often. In its opening scenes alone there's a grindhouse-like design to the title cards that display the filmmakers' love and respect for the genre. It's a film that gets everything it's going for right. It's fun, earnest and has the best understanding of the zombie genre that I've seen as of late.

Furthermore, the animation on display is something to admire. The directors, Sam Fell and Chris Butler, have found a way to seamlessly match stop-motion with computer effects to the point where it's hard to tell which scenes used what format, especially in the film's finale. In addition, the character and production design is something from another world. Everything is just slightly different from our world - perspectives are shifted and nothing is symmetrical - giving the film a truly original feel. Enhancing the animation is the cinematography by Tristan Oliver serving the film's ghostly, spooky feel it's going for.

We go to the movies to be transported into the world offered to us by the filmmaker. We hope to be taken out of our everyday lives and to forget about our own problems, even if it's only for a short time. ParaNorman is a film that does this effortlessly in its simplicity. Sure, we've heard this story a million times, but it's not often that it's told right. ParaNorman invites us into its otherworldliness with open arms and gives us everything we could ask for.

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